Rodan/War of the Gargantuas – DVD Review

For kaiju(i.e. Japanese Giant Monster movies) fans, this double-bill of two of the best non-Godzilla movies represents a must-have. Featuring both the original Japanese and the revised American versions, this double-disc DVD presents these kaiju classics with the respect they have never before received on U.S. shores.
While Rodan went on to become Godzilla’s sidekick in a number of the later monster team-up movies, the original RODAN is quite a respectable achievement in its own right. This is something of a transitional film, abandoning the somber black-and-white moodiness of Toho’s earlier monster movies but still retaining the serious science fiction tone. Although shot in color, this was the last Toho kaiju in the Academy 1.33 aspect ratio. Subsequent releases from THE MYSTERIANS on were shot in the widescreen scope ratio of 2.35, and from MOTHRA onward the movies would veer toward light-hearted fantasy. Unlike many of these later kaiju efforts, RODAN shows director Ishiro Honda still striving to build an atmosphere of unease, much like the original GODZILLA.
Rodan (1956)RODAN’s storyline features a slow build-up over the discovery of the mutilated bodies of some miners on the island of Kyushu. Brave miner Shigeru (Kenji Sahara) leads an investigation but winds up getting trapped in a cave-in. The miners have been killed by some giant insect-like larvae, but when a giant pterodactyl egg hatches, the real menace -Rodan – emerges and makes quite a breakfast of the killer larvae, while leaving the observant Shigeru in a state of shock. Unlike Godzilla, who knocked buildings over with his claws or burned them with his radioactive breath, Rodan spends most of his time in the sky, creating hurricane-force winds with his wings and wreaking major devastation with the shock waves as he passes overhead. Instead of old stand-by Tokyo, the city of Saseabo gets leveled by the onslaught as Rodan is joined by a female mate. The whole thing reaches an unusual climax with a suicide pact between the monsters who plunge themselves into a growing volcano for a memorably somber finish.
This disc represents the DVD Region 1 debut of the original Japanese version of the film, which is 10 minutes longer than the truncated American version with which American fans are familiar. In addition, the Japanese version comes with stronger and brighter colors. At the same time, the American version is interesting, especially as almost the entire dialgoue track was dubbed by Paul Frees (WAR OF THE WORLDS) and Keye Luke (GREMLINS), doing different characters with stock Asian accents, and with a very young George Takei (STAR TREK) giving the English dialogue for Japanese children.
War of the GargantuasEven more exciting is the first widescreen presentation of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS on domestic home video (previously released on a full screen laserdisc). I had originally caught up with the movie on the Million Dollar Movie as a kid, where it seemed to play every night for a week, and I enjoyed it so much that I re-watched it almost every time.
The film was created as a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERED THE WORLD, which depicted a monster that could regenerate from a single body part, in this case resulting in two monsters. Both retain a flat-topped Frankenstein-type dome and headpiece, but American producer Henry G. Saperstein decided to rename the monsters “Gargantuas” and obscured the continuity.1In the Japanese version, after the revelation that there are two Frankensteins, the monsters are given the names to distinguish them: Sanda (brown one) and Gaira (evil green one, spelled “Gailah” in the English subtitles). The Japanese version is actually 4 minutes shorter than the American cut and has a darker picture quality.
War of the GargantuasWAR OF THE GARGANTUAS has an intriguing opening: in the midst of a rainstorm, a giant octopus attacks a Japanese freighter; helps seems to arrive when a Green Gargantua pries the octopus away, but instead of rescuing the sailors, the monster starts eating them. We are then introduced to Dr. Paul Stewart (a likeable but indifferent Russ Tamblyn, replacing Nick Adams who starred in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD) and his beautiful assistant Akemi (Kumi Mizuno, returning from FCW), who refuse to believe that the carnivorous beast could have been the baby Brown Gargantua (looking much like LAND OF THE LOST’s Chaka) they had nurtured until he ran away.2
It’s not long before the Green Gargantua emerges from Tokyo Bay and ambles across Haneda airport where he devours a female office worker. The American version adds a shot of the worker’s chewed clothing, but the Japanese version cuts poignantly to some flowers on the ground. Green Gargantua runs away when sunlight emerges from behind some clouds, returning at night to pick up a Caucasian lounge singer warbling the memorably awful song “The Words Get Stuck in My Throat” (sung in English in both versions), whom he drops when all the nightclub lights are turned on.
One distinction for GARGANTUAS is that, for once, the Japanese military prove somewhat effective. They bring out their giant Maser cannons and do some damage on Green Gargantua  before he gets away to wrestle around the city with his better-natured brother, Sanda. Also notable: after this film and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, Toho decided to save money on miniature buildings by setting their monster rumbles in the countryside rather than in cities, rendering GARGANTUAS one of the last epics of destruction before Godzilla was revived in the ‘80s.
The print of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is bright and vibrant, though there are some rare instances of aliasing problems due to compression. The sound is good overall, though Gailah’s chirping noises can remind one of a French rooster and begin to grate on the nerves after a while. The Japanese soundtrack presents Akira Ifukubie’s complete score (with a great march like the one the composer wrote for DESTROY ALL MONSTERS); the American version replaces some of the original score with library music.
A great bonus feature is BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE, written and produced by GODZILLA experts Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle. Though it has some pacing problems, the documentary gives us behind-the-scenes stories concerning Eiji Tsuburaya (special effects supervisor) and art director Yasuyuki Inoue (miniature city designer and unsung hero of kaiju movies), as well as commentary and reminiscences from Haruo Nakajima, Kenpachiro Satsuma and Tsutomu “Tom” Kitagawa, who played Godzilla in the ‘50s-‘70s, ’80-‘90s, and GODZILLA 2000 on, each explaining and demonstrating their interpretation of the character as well as offering anecdotes about difficulties and near accidents, especially in Toho’s large water set. While similar features have been included on Japanese import DVDs (sans English subtitles), it is great to see a number of Japanese artists who worked on kaiju movies and hear their stories in a feature-length documentary.
This set is highly recommended to all lovers of kaiju eiga!
RODAN/WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Classic Media release through Genius Entertainment.

  • RODAN (Sora no Daikiaju Radon [“Rodan, Monster from the Sky”], 1956). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Takeshi Kimura and Takeo Murata from a story by Ken Kuronuma; English dialogue by David Duncan. Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Harata, Akio Kohori.
  • WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Furankenshutain no Kaiju [“Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira“], 1966). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Ishiro Honda and Takeshi Kimura, story by Reuben Bercovitch. Cast: Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno, Nobuo Nakamura, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. The original trailer for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (which unfortunately is not included in this set) was constructed from takes featuring the dialogue recorded on set, with the Japanese cast speaking their native language and imported American star Russ Tamblyn speaking in English. This reveals that the decision to rename the monsters for American consumption was not a last-minute change made while dubbing the American version – Tamblyn can be heard calling the monsters “Gargantuas” while his Japanese co-stars call them “Frankenstein.”
  2. The existence of this flashback creates some continuity problems, because it does not comform precisely to what we saw in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, which featured a very human-looking monster, not the bigfoot-like creature seen here. The scene seems to exist for the benefit of the American version, which pretends to be a stand-alone film.

Invasion of Astro-Monster – Film & DVD Review

This sequel to GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER is one of the best entries in the long-running series of Godzilla films from Japan’s Toho Studios. Although the serious tone of the original GODZILLA (a.k.a. GOJIRA, 1954) were long gone, INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER (originally released in the U.S. as MONSTER ZERO) stands out as a colorful, fun, and exciting romp of a movie. The special effects are spectacular if not altogether convincing; the action is outrageous; the story is fast-paced. And best of all there is some genuinely charming character interaction, thanks in large part to the presence of American co-star Nick Adams, who has wonderful chemsistry with Japanese star Akira Takarada and generates firey romantic sparks with leading lady Kumi Mizuno. The plot has the inhabitants of the newly discovered Planet X requesting help from Earth: the loan of the monsters Godzilla and Rodan to defeat the interplanetar menace Ghidorah, known on Planet X as “Monster Zero.” The duplicitous X-ians then double-cross Earth, demanding that it submit to Planet X or else face the wrath of all three monstes, whom the X-ians control with radio waves. This leads to a frantic effort by Earth’s forces to destroy the X-ians control of the monsters and drive the invaders from our planet.
MONSTER ZERO is atypical for the Godzilla series in that the monsters play a subordinate role, with most of the screen time devoted to the human characters and their conflict with Planet X. Except for a couple of brief skirmishes, Godzilla, Rodan, and Ghidorah barely appear in the first half; the film saves them for the climactic battle at the end. This approach bears some fruit: with fewer scenes to work on, the special effects crew seems to do a better job, although, unfortunately, some stock footage is used (from RODAN and MOTHRA) to augment the miniature destruction scenes.

TRIVIA

The film’s original Japanes title “Kaiju Daisenso” translates as “Giant Monster War.” “Invasion of Astro Monster” was the “International Release” title used when Toho sold the film overseas. In the U.S., the film was released to theatres in 1970 (on a double bill with WAR OF THE GARGAUNTUAS) as MONSTER ZERO. For later release on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD, the title was expanded in the box artwork to GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO.
The Toho Masters Collection box artwork uses the International release title “Invasion of Astro Monster,” but the English subtitles for the Japanese version of the film translate the title as “Invasion of the Astro-Monster” (an understandable discrepancy, as the Japanese language does not contian articles like “a,” “an,” and “the,” so translators must insert them at their own discretion). The English-language version of the film on the DVD retains the old U.S. title MONSTER ZERO.
MONSTER ZERO is one of the first Godzilla films to reach U.S. shores with only minor editorial alterations for U.S. release (besides the English-dubbing, of course). The opening credits substituted an eerie, ominous theme in place of the original’s rousing military march (a common element in scores by series stalwart Akira Ifukube). Some Japanese language writing and newspaper headlines were changed to English. And the Controller of Planet X is no longer heard speaking in his native tongue. Toho prepared an English-dubbed version of INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER that retains these missing pieces, plus a brief shot featuring the original sound recorded on set, pre-dubbing, so that you hear Akira Takarada speaking in Japanese while Nick Adams responds in English

DVD DETAILS

The Toho Masters Collection DVD (ASIN: B000OCY7IK) offers the original Japanese version of the film, with optional subtitles, under its international release title INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER, plus The Americanized English-language version, known as MONSTER ZERO. Also included are:

  • A Japanese trailer
  • A small but impressive poster gallery and a still photograph gallery, both with informative captions
  • A video biography (using still photos and narration) of Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka
  • An audio commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV, author of Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo.

Like the other Toho Masters DVDs, this one comes in a shiny, hard DVD case with a colorful Japanese poster on the front and a nice black-and-white still photograph on the inside front cover.
The transfers for both version of the film offer a clear colorful widescreen image with good sound. In general the picture quality is comparable with the out-of-print Scimitar DVD from the 1990s.
There is a slight improvement in that the Toho Masters disc has a few more chapter stops, but as with the Scimitar DVD, the chapter stops do not do a much improved job of helping you jump to your favorite moments. For example, both DVDs have a chapter stop for the three-way battle on Planet X that begins with a boat arriving at an island on Earth, followed by an extensive dialogue scene, before finally shifting to outer space for the promised action.
The trailers offers a nice glimpse of what filming must have been like. Edited together before the film had been dubbed, the trailer includes live sound takes from the filming, with American star Nick Adams speaking English to his Japanese co-stars, who respond in their native language.
The image galleries are small but impressive. Unlike most DVD galleries, these feature informative captions that induce you to actually stop and look at each individual image, instead of thumbing through all of them without pause. The information for the posters is especially useful, because the film was released several times: in Japan, in American, then in Japan again (in an edited form as part of a series of kiddie matinees called the “Champtionship Festival”). It’s nice to have the different art work identified according to which campaign it supported.
The video biography of Tanaka is on par with biographies on other Toho Masters DVDs: it’s reasonably informative, provides some interesting background details, and hits the high marks in the producer’s career. Long-time fans may not learn much new, but they will find it interesting.
Unfortunately, Gailbraith’s audio commentary is a disappointment. Although thoroughly well-versed in the subject, he seems to have little to offer in terms of analysis; instead, he falls into the trap of filling the time by identifying each and every Toho stock player who walks on screen, then giving an extensive biography and filmography. This may be justified in the cases of Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno, who had long associations with the Godzilla franchise, but after awhile it wears thin.
We would have been more interested in hearing details of the differences between the two versions of the film: although MONSTER ZERO is one of the least re-edited Godzilla movies, the Japanese cut still runs over a minute longer than the American version.
Galbraith also derides the English-dubbing of the film. More often than not, the original Japanese versions of the Godzilla films are preferable, but in this case we should make some allowances for the fact that there is an English-speaking star in the lead. The English audio track is marred by some notable groaners (e.g., the hysterical, unidentified cry of “Look out the window!” when a flying saucer appears over the Earth space headquarters). More often than not, however, it works. It was certainly an eccentric choice to give the undercover aliens on Earth voices that sound like movie gangsters, but they do dress and act a lot like gangsters, so why not? Galbraith complains (as he did in Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo) the Yoshio Tsuchiya’s vocal performance as the Controller of Planet X is lost in translation, but the real strength of his performance lies in his gaggle of eccentric hand gestures; the only thing truly lost are the few moments when he spouts his (reportedly improvised) alien language.
Even if you already own the ouit-of-print Scimitar DVD (which was re-released by another company shortly after Scimitar went out of business), it may be worth you while to pick up the Toho Masters Collection Disc. The bonus features are much better, and it is nice to finally have an opportunity to see the original Japanese version of the film; even if the differences are only minor, fans will want to check them out.

Godzilla and Rodan battle King Ghidorah on PLANET X

KAIJU DAISENSEO (“Great Monster War”; a.k.a. Invasion of Astro Monster; Monster Zero, 1965). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Shinichi Sekizawa. Cast: Nick Adams, Akira Takarada, Jun Tazaki, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Keiko Sawai, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Takamura Sasaki. Genzo Tabu.